Jul 28, 2020
The list of accomplishments and accolades for Larry Johnson — “The Ethanol Answer Man” and self-proclaimed “Governor of Gotha” — is quite long.
But a large number of his friends, family members and acquaintances can provide something even more impressive — testimonials about his high-caliber character and values.
“He lived by a certain set of values; hard work, honesty and integrity,” says Johnson’s oldest son, Adam Johnson of Belle Plaine. “He was very humble. He taught us kids to be humble and not brag about yourselves or look for compliments, but that your work would show that for you.”
Larry Johnson of rural Cologne, died July 19 from a stroke. He was 76.
“Dad was very rational in his decision-making; that he never made it with emotion,” Adam said. “He told us what we should hear, not always what we wanted to hear. That was constant. You never felt sorry for yourself.”
“He also told us if something is worth complaining about, it’s worth the time to solve it,” Adam continued. “People say those things, but he lived it; backing that up every day. He definitely was someone you looked up to and wanted to model your life after.”
That tenacity and resolve was a Larry Johnson trademark.
A lifelong resident of San Francisco Township, he grew up on the farm family. After graduating high school and a year of college, Larry focused his attention on farming, joining brother Jim in taking over the family farm and running a large turkey hatching egg operation and cash grain farm, particularly corn and soybeans.
Because of his farming experience, as well as nine years on the Minnesota Corn Growers Board and six years on the National Corn Growers Board, Johnson was well aware of ethanol and its values, particularly during the farm crisis of the 1980s.
“He listened to people; paid attention to what they were going through and became well versed on ethanol,” said his brother Cliff Johnson. “He not only became well known in the state, but became an international promoter and educator of ethanol.”
Larry Johnson started a consulting business in 1985, which led him to stop farming in 1988. One of his clients was the Minnesota Agriculture Department.
Johnson served the ethanol industry in many facets and his expertise led him to be dubbed ‘The Ethanol Answer Man.’ A van he used to travel the state was called ‘The Ethanol Answer Van.’
“He traveled all over the state, the country and the world with people recognizing him that way,” Cliff Johnson said, adding that Larry was very popular with farmers who visited him at a Minnesota State Fair booth. “He was always very dedicated to whatever he did, so he had answers to any questions people had about ethanol.”
Larry Johnson was a founder of the “Minnesota Ethanol Model,” a public/private partnership designed to provide jobs by keeping profits in local communities.
He served on many other county, state and national agriculture-related boards and organizations.
“Larry was one of ethanol’s most energetic and passionate advocates, said Brian Jennings, CEO of American Coalition for Ethanol, adding that Johnson had a “near-superhero status” in educating so many about the benefits of ethanol.
“He was a trusted advisor over the years, patiently teaching me about the history of ethanol, but also helping me understand the future of this industry as well,” Jennings said.
But there was plenty more to Larry Johnson than his massive ethanol knowledge, including, in part: efforts with West Union Lutheran Church, where he chaired the church council; mentoring young adults; and assisting community gardeners.
“He had a very full plate,” Adam Johnson said, emphasizing that his father’s top priority was his family. “He cared so deeply.”
And about Larry’s distinguished mustache?
“If you did something well, you’d see the mustache rise and a smile come out,” Adam said. “If it rised up and you saw his lip quivering, you were going to get a life lesson.”
Larry Johnson also was recognized as ‘The Governor of Gotha,’ when he routinely called in a weather report to a local radio station.
“That’s what he would call himself,” Cliff Johnson said. “Certainly not everyone knew where Gotha is, or was (near Cologne), but he had fun with it.”
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